Once upon a time we weren’t so smart with our money. Especially when it came to food shopping. I never made a list, ever. I bought food that I wanted at the time with no foresight into what we were actually going to eat. We spent a lot and threw away most of it.
Further on down the road, still no regard for expenses, I was buying whatever looked good at the store and still throwing out a ton of food that spoiled before we even ate it. Except this time it was for a family of four instead of just for a newly married couple. One day after doing the bills, Jeff said to me “we can’t do this anymore, we spend 1000 to 1200 dollars a month on food!” Talk about an aha moment. I felt so guilty since I was the one doing the food shopping.
I immediately started trying to figure out how to cut costs and get the food spending under control. I went through denial, “that’s just what food costs babe!” Then a weird coupon phase after watching that Extreme Couponing show on TLC. Followed by a whole bunch of things that were just time consuming and discouraging. I’ll spare you all my legwork and just talk about what finally actually worked.
Sit down and figure out exactly what you’re buying and what you’re using. What are you not using? What are you running out of? What do you need to have in your house all the time? This should take place over at least a month or two, so you can really get a good picture of where your money is going. Make sure to include household items like paper products, sponges, cleaning supplies, and personal items like soap, shampoo, diapers and wipes. Also keep your receipts for later.
Honestly, I’m horrible at this. When Jeff first suggested it all I could think was “how on earth am I supposed to know on Saturday what I’m going to want for lunch next Thursday??” Some people are meal plan masters, and have their whole week (or two) planned out before they even go shopping.
I like a little spontaneity in my meals. When I meal plan, I figure out how many days I’m planning for (usually two weeks due to my work schedule) and then bang out one breakfast lunch and dinner for each day. Then I keep that list and cross off what I’ve made as we go through the week.
Its better to have a general idea of what you’re going to eat than to just buy what looks good in the store at the time, OR to be spending money a few times a week on ingredients for something that you thought you have but don’t. Because who buys JUST the one thing they go into a store for? That’s right, no one.
The best thing I’ve done is make one master grocery list.
After you’ve tracked what you’re buying and using, make a list of what you routinely use every single week. Type it up and save it in a document you can print for every trip. This is what mine looks like. Honestly it could use an edit because a lot of things on here we don’t use much anymore like hot dogs and chocolate syrup. Feel free to tweak it to for your own needs and print it out:
This is where you fill out what you need for the meals you’ve planned, plus anything else you need for the household (duh right?). I print mine out and stick it right on the fridge so as we run out of something, I just hi-light the item on the list. Or, if I bought something that I’m not going to rebuy the next time I go shopping (like cleaning supplies, toothpaste, things that generally last a while), I can cross it off the next trip’s list to avoid buying multiples of things (like the month where we had three maple syrups in the pantry). This saves me a ton of time the day BEFORE grocery day too, because the list is usually half filled out.
This is where your saved receipts come in. On an otherwise blank list, write down the prices of the items you consistently buy and shop around. How much are the same items at another store. Is your usual grocery store the best value? If not, switch!
I was shopping at WalMart, thinking I was saving a ton of money over regular stores. Then I brought my list to the discount grocery store Aldi. I was shocked. Changing stores saved me HUNDREDS of dollars.
Check out the difference between the two stores on this simple shopping list:
12 Eggs $1.88
Gallon Milk 2.85
White Bread 2.78
Peanut Butter 3.32
Bag of Apples 2.94
4 Pack Toilet Paper 2.28
12 Eggs $ .59
Gallon Milk 2.29
White Bread 1.89
Peanut Butter 1.49
Bag of Apples 2.89
4 Pack Toilet Paper 1.99
Pretty significant difference.
The ‘Tweak It’ stage should be ongoing. Example: for a while, cheese was cheaper at Walmart than Aldi so I was buying it there (since I still go to two stores to get everything we need). Then this spring, I noticed it changed and the price of cheese at Aldi dropped significantly. Pay attention to the prices you pay for items you buy frequently because they do change.
So this is basically my process in taking charge of our monthly food budget. Currently with the 5 of us I keep it at $650. I’m pretty proud of this number since I wrestled it down from $1200. The food spending used to sink us, but now I plan for it and we have $550 extra every month!